So why do I think we are potentially on the cusp of a integration breakthrough in manufacturing? Two primary reasons 1) By focusing on a platform approach instead of an interface or integration approach based on translations, we avoid the translation issue altogether and 2) by forming an industry/government coalition that is designed to appeal to Microsoft and Google, there exists enough market mass to make it broadly affordable. Of these two reasons the second is probably the most important. For any initiative to gain the traction and then the momentum to truly transform manufacturing it has to be so affordable and functional it becomes a default standard. Think Microsoft Office for the desktop, think TCP/IP for networking, think html for web content, think Google for search.
In the past Microsoft’s approach to manufacturing has primarily been to rely on ISV’s for anything other than ERP applications, and then only ERP for small to medium sized business and with manufacturing as one of many industries. Google, while gaining traction as a platform for eMail in some manufacturing companies, has not really been a strategic solution. WIthout the presence of one or more standard setters in the industry manufacturing and automation technology has remained fragmented and an inordinate amount of effort is required to just exchange data let alone coordinate workflow between systems. The expression “lost in translation” too often applies when try to tie together complex manufacturing systems. It is true that initiatives like S95 or OPC have provided some degree of interoperability but unfortunately they represent a common denominator. This is not to denigrate the work that was done in creating these standards or to imply that they are not useful - they are. But to move beyond the basics we need a common platform.
This is where either (or both) Google and Microsoft have the potential to alter the landscape of manufacturing software. The creation of a platform that ubiquitously provides for the free flow of information with a common workflow is the nirvana that could transform manufacturing.